Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was asked yesterday for his take on extended unemployment benefits – a policy he and his party have now killed more than once.
“Look, it’s no secret that Democrats plan to spend the year exploiting folks who are still struggling in this economy for political gain,” McConnell said. “I’d probably want to be talking about something other than Obamacare, too, if I’d voted for it. But to create a conflict where the possibility for agreement was so close, while more than a million people are stuck in the middle, is just outrageous.”
Think about just how much chutzpah is necessary to say something like this out loud, on the record, with a straight face. Democrats are ready to help the jobless keep their heads above water in exchange for nothing; McConnell leads a caucus that first wanted to cut off the unemployed, only to change its mind and say it’ll help if Democrats meet GOP demands.
McConnell did a radio interview last week in which he literally laughed at the idea of extending jobless aid; now he sees it as “outrageous” that Democrats won’t approve the policy by giving Republicans what they want?
The editorial board of the New York Times is unimpressed.
Republican senators are pulling out every fake excuse they can think of for filibustering an extension of jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed on Tuesday. The majority leader, Harry Reid, was mean to us and wouldn’t let us offer amendments, they say. Democrats refused to pay for the benefits. It’s President Obama’s fault people can’t find work because he won’t approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
The truth is the Republican Party simply does not believe that job-seekers who have been out of work for six months or longer deserve government assistance. The most hardhearted believe cutting benefits will give people an incentive to get back to work. The most cynical are hoping for widespread misery, which they can then pin on “Obama’s economy” for political gain in the elections this fall. Whatever the reason, nearly five million unemployed people will go without benefits by the end of 2014, unless the party backs down.
Also note the evolution of Republican thought on this. During the Bush/Cheney era, extending unemployment benefits was practically automatic, with no need for offsetting spending cuts. In 2010, when there were only 41 Senate Republicans, 40, including McConnell, saw no need for offsets.
But in 2014, nearly every Republican in Congress has embraced a posture that was seen as indefensible as recently as four years ago.
So what happens now?
“We’re not going to give up on Americans struggling to get back on their feet,” Reid said. “At any time we can bring up a short-term extension again.”
Reid blasted Republicans for trying to appear sympathetic to the unemployed but failing to allow the Senate to act to help.
“My Republican colleagues ignore the needs of these hard working Americans at their own peril,” Reid said.